When did you last read a devotional on stoning?
But, as I was reading the Old Testament law, stoning got my attention in Deuteronomy 16:21-17:7 where God lays out instructions for the community of Israel to stone anyone who is caught worshiping other gods.
What really caught my attention in this passage wasn’t so much the punishment of stoning, but the requirements for witnesses. At least two witnesses had to confirm someone’s guilt in order for this extreme punishment to be carried out. These witnesses carried a weighty responsibility which was demonstrated in the additional requirement that the witnesses throw the first stones at the offender. You couldn’t therefore, accuse someone of a capital offense without also taking responsibility to enact God’s judgment.
The concept of throwing the first stone likely makes us all think of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:2-11. The Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in the act of adultery and, to test him, asked him if she should be stoned as the Old Covenant instructed. But Jesus, ushering in the New Covenant, responded by telling them not that whoever WITNESSED her sin should throw the first stone, but that whoever was WITHOUT sin should throw the first stone.
Like he always does, Jesus took the concept of being a witness to sin and turned it on its head. The Pharisees came to Jesus as witnesses to THE WOMAN’S sin ready to judge her. But, Jesus instead instructed them to be witnesses to THEIR sin and evaluate themselves. They came to him as experts on HER rebellion against God, but Jesus challenged them to instead become experts at THEIR rebellion. Then he, in his position as God, took responsibility to judge the woman caught in adultery and his judgment was filled with mercy and a call to repentance.
I know it’s unpleasant, but we need to see ourselves as the Pharisees in this account. We know what it is to see so clearly the sin of others and in righteous indignation desire or in fact seek out their judgment and punishment. We have all been blinded by our zeal to uncover the failure of others and have become unable to see the truth of our own failure before God. And we have certainly all come before God deserving punishment and instead been treated to mercy and an invitation to repentance.
So, as I read in Deuteronomy, I was challenged to become first of all an expert witness to my own sin.
Is that a challenge God has for you too?